Hitch hiking is about getting a ride with someone who picks you up in their vehicle and takes you in the direction you are wishing or willing to go.
In 2016 I hitch-hiked across New Zealand completely solo over the course of several weeks. The experience was amazing, and I met sheep shearers, other backpackers, farmers, carpenters, students, fisherman, businessman, all walks of life. When I received an invitation to a job interview I even hurriedly hitch hiked back to small town in the south of the country 1000’s of kilometres away in just a few days.
In fact hitch hiking became such second nature to me that while I lived in New Zealand for 16 months I hitch hiked to work every single day.
Hitch Hiking is a great way to meet interesting people, have a completely unique travel experience and save some money $$. So here’s’ some tips to how to do it.
Is it safe? Let’s go over safety first.
Since my New Zealand trip I have hitch hiked in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Canada, Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico and the USA. I do believe hitch-hiking is safe if you exercise appropriate caution. I cannot comment on the nature of hitch hiking as a girl, but for a guy I never had any problems. Using common sense is honestly such a crucial part to hitch hiking, so checking in with yourself to see if you’re OK and comfortable, is completely normal. Here’s some tips in hitch hiking safety:
- Be willing to say no to rides: You have to feel comfortable. If you feel uncomfortable you should be willing to say “can I please get out here?” to the driver. A good way to approach this may be asking to use the bathroom and collecting your bags as you exit. It sounds silly but in preparation for saying “no” to a ride, you should run through the scenario in your head. Imagine; a car pulls over, winds down the window and asks you in. You don’t feel comfortable. You can lean forward and say “oh that’s ok, I think I might keep waiting! Thanks a lot though!”. Run through this scenario of saying “no” in your head, over and over. It will make it easier when the time comes, after-all practice makes perfect.
- Are you open to travelling with a friend?: If you are not set on going this trip solo, consider bringing someone along!
- Consider telling friends: Consider telling someone are doing a hitch hiking trip and where you are now / where you are going to go. Letting people know your location is a good safety measure.
- Have a phone with adequate battery on it: Charge your phone the night before if possible.
- Consider hitch hiking in daylight hours
- Have a map / route of where you are going: This way you’ll know if someone is taking you way out of the way or in the wrong direction. Consider pre-downloading a road map on your phone through apps like MapsMe or google maps offline download.
Now, lets talk about how to get a ride:
- Location: Can cars see me? Is it day or night? Am I close to town or far from town? Does this road go in the direction I need to go? Ask yourself these.
- Pull-over room: Can cars pull over here? This sounds silly but if your stood on a highway where the speed is 100km/hr or 65mph with no side-lane, then cars might not want, or be able to pull over. Consider areas that are safe to pull over with lower speed limits.
- Traffic: Is there much traffic here? Have many cars passed recently? Is this a busy road? Is this a country road? These are important questions.
- Using a sign / placard: Using a sign helps a lot, it gives drivers an idea of where you’re going It also avoids awkward moments like when a driver pulls over and says “I’m not going that way”. Roadside hitch hiking has a small code which is somewhat universally understood. Use the Airport code of the city / town you are trying to get to. For example: if your hitch-hiking in California and need to get to Los Angeles, write on a piece of cardboard L A X .This stands for Los Angeles Airport. If your trying to get to say, San Francisco, write; S F O.
- Smile: Smiling has literally got me rides before.
- Presentability: Are you clean and presentable? Ask yourself the question; If you saw yourself right now, would you offer ‘you’ a ride?
- How many of you: The more of you there are, the more your chances dwindle of being picked up. It’s a lot harder for a car to pick up say 4 backpackers than it is for them to pick-up just 1 or 2. I’m about to diverge a cheeky secret though. It’s not uncommon for friends who are hitch hiking together to get just one person to stand on the road-side while the other hides a little way out of view. That way when a car pulls over they can both come up smiling saying “Oh hey thanks for pulling over!”
- Bags: If you have a lot of bags, then drivers see this as a hassle. Consider ‘hiding’ your bags a little out of view or making them look smaller and neatly arranged.
- Saying Yes or No: It is essential you consider your safety first, always. Be comfortable with the idea of saying NO to people who offer you rides if you don’t feel comfortable.
- Legality: I never had a problem with it but there are some legal issues with hitch hiking in certain countries. For example, in Canada you cannot hitch hike within city limits or even in some entire provinces.
Some of the world’s best countries for hitch-hiking are New Zealand, Ireland, Peru and Canada (summer is highly preferable!)
I have had many friends hitch-hike from East to West coast or visa-versa across Canada without a problem. Likewise, hitch hiking in New Zealand is not uncommon.
I found some countries especially developed countries like Europe and the USA, that hitch hiking was hard as it was usually associated with vagrancy and homelessness.
If your considering a hitch hiking trip my advice would be GO FOR IT!! Even better if you can bring a friend along for the ride.